You already know Amanda Seales. Maybe you're familiar with her work as an MTV video jockey, back when she went by the stage name Amanda Diva in the early aughts. Perhaps you're one of her newer fans, finding yourself consistently doubled over by her hilarious performance as Tiffany DuBois, the bougie friend, on Insecure. There's also the possibility that you once came across her name while she was performing standup comedy, or maybe you just follow her on social media, where she tells jokes that specifically address the experiences of black women in the United States and schools those who don't realize why that specificity in her work is so vital.
With that breadth of knowledge and experience in the spotlight, Seales is certainly a polymath, but, most of all, she is a truth teller. From her hot takes on racial politics in the workplace to her sidesplitting disavowal of catcalling on the street, Seales uses humor in her debut HBO comedy special I Be Knowin' to honestly explore the poisonous nature of the patriarchy, the art of giving a compliment, and the importance of knowing the "Black National Anthem."
Before the premiere of I Be Knowin' on Saturday (January 26), Seales opened up to W about her relationship with social media, which she uses as a tool for expertly unpacking the ins and outs of white privilege, outlining the consequences of misogyny, doling out advice for how to deal with "fuckboys," reviewing major pop culture moments, and showcasing her clapback expertise.
How’d you come up with the title of your HBO special, I Be Knowin'?
“I be knowin'” has kind of become a trope on Instagram for me. It started with me doing this thing, I was in DC and I went to a window and sang, “I be knowin,'” because it seems like I will say things and people will be like, “Amanda’s so mean” or “You’re just extra” and they’ll be contrarian. Inevitably, what I said comes to pass. And then people are like, 'Oh shit, you were right.' This trend kept happening, so now my Instagram followers will be like, “Yo! You be knowin'!” It was partially that, and the fact that I wanted to have a title that spoke authentically to what I try to do with my comedy, which is to teach and to come from a place of intelligence.
You've had an illustrious music career as part of the R&B group Floetry, you've earned a master's degree in African-American studies from Columbia University, you were a VJ for MTV, you host a popular podcast called Small Doses, and now you're well known for your role as Tiffany on Insecure. At what point in your career did you realize that you wanted to be a standup comedian?
Around 2011, 2012, I started realizing that my space in the music industry was shifting and I didn’t relate to it in the same way. I was trying to figure out what direction do I need to go in and what was really my passion. My other passion besides music has always been comedy, not just as a fan, but being funny is also incredibly important to me. People would ask, “Oh, you do a lot of stuff, what’s your favorite?” I would always say, “Making people laugh.” So I knew that eventually I would need to do standup if I wanted to be considered a true comedic voice. It was just a matter of time. Then, the opportunity arose and I was like, alright, let’s see how this works out. My first time on stage, I kind of killed it. [Laughs.] From there, I dug my heels in and really committed to learning the craft of standup, and it’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Your Instagram bio reads, “I'm not 4 everyone,” and you open up your standup special with a monologue about how the show is not for the misogynists, the racists, the homophobes of the world. Was your show opening inspired by your Instagram bio?
Oh, it does say that, doesn’t it! That wasn’t intentional. It was more like, let me just set y’all up. Everybody thinks everything is for them, especially the most privileged people who are always saying, “Well, this doesn’t speak to me so that’s a problem.” It’s like, that’s not the case. This is for people who want to be better, people who want to be enlightened and be a valid part of society. I basically just wanted to let people know out the gate, this is what I’m on there for. Because when they come—and they always come—to be like, “You’re this” and “You’re that,” and it’s like, “Well this isn’t for you anyway! Shoo! Scram!” [Laughs.]
You cover a lot of ground both in your HBO special and on social media, going off about everything from racial politics in the workplace to openly criticizing abusers like R. Kelly. What inspires you to talk about these difficult topics in a public forum?
I think it’s really just about the fact that we have been given this tool, the internet, that is so unique and that allows us to share in ways that we really never have been able to do so before. I always say the biggest difference between this generation and previous generations, especially when it comes to civil rights, is that we have the internet. That’s the big difference. We have a means of communication that is pretty accessible by everyone in ways that we never had before. It’s just about being purposeful. If I’m going to be in a place of visibility, using that in a positive way matters to me because I want to be somebody that is a positive role model to others, specifically to young black women.
How do you block out the haters online?
I really need to stop commenting back! Whenever you see me comment back, a lot of times it’s because either someone is so wildly out of pocket that I just can’t let it live, but for the most part it’s because I think a lot of us feel like we need to be polite in receiving our abuse. Black women, in particular, are told, “you’re too this" or "too that,” and I really like to demonstrate ways in which you can combat people who are talking to you crazy. You don’t want to give attention to people who don’t deserve attention, but the real goal is to be an example for people who want to stand up for themselves. Giving them an example of how that can be done.
What are your thoughts on sliding into the DMs?
So, my thing about DMs is—because, by the way, the DM slidery has increased exponentially in the last month, and I’m not sure if that’s coincidental with my special—I don’t have a problem with it. I think it’s about, what are your intentions? Right? At the end of the day, I don’t mind it, because at least on Instagram I can do a quick check about what your actual background is, versus any of these dating apps [where] you’re kind of shooting in the dark. I don’t mind a DM slide.
Do you follow exes or block them?
Block. I mean, I have exes that I’m cool with, but the ones who have done me dirty? They get blocked. They don’t get to see. Some people would say, “I want them to see me shining in my glory!” I’m like, no. Because these exes, nine times out of 10, tell themselves that part of your glory is somehow related to them. So, no, no, no. You don’t get to see me shine.
Is there anything you would never post?
When I’m in a relationship—it’s funny because people say, “That’s why you don’t have any men, that’s why you don’t have any guys.” I’m like, just because you don’t see shit doesn’t mean it’s not happening. For as open as I am, I don’t post my personal life because I just feel like it’s important to me to keep certain things to me. That’s a hard line. I think some of the reasons why people don’t post certain things is that they don’t want to look a certain way, and I don’t really care about that for the most part, but I just don’t feel the need to post my romantic life on my Instagram, until someone is like, really, really, really, really locked in and they are an integral part of my romantic life. And even then, you might get a glimmer. But people be doing these dedication posts, and it’s not happening for me.
Describe yourself using 3 emojis.
The black power fist emoji, the rolling eyes emoji, and the laughing-while-crying emoji.
Will fans get to see any more of your cat Lando in 2019?
Lando has his own page now! It’s @The_Lando_Catrissian.
How do you unplug?
I watch Game of Thrones and play Candy Crush simultaneously. That is my idea of a great night. I’m like, oh, we are in it to win it tonight!